Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 27 September 2017

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.  Hebrews 12, verses 12-13.

These verses strongly echo Isaiah 35, which says “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”   And it carries the echo of Galatians 6 which cautions men to counsel each other wisely and in Godly love, but to be wise ourselves to not be pulled into temptation.

So I’m attending a School of Discipleship and Ministry at the Calvary Chapel where we attend here in Paris.   This week’s lesson was about how to carry out the mission of the church.  In doing that, Jesus followers are encouraged, even expected, to live in ways that edify and glorify God, that are Godly and upright, and can be a good example for others.   That doesn’t mean being goody-goody or snotty:  it means ‘walking the walk and talking the talk.’   It means being honest and moral.  And that’s tough, especially in a poor town full of drug use, poverty, despair, and economic disadvantages.

Every day you live your life like that is like working out hard in the spiritual gym.   It’s like pumping serious iron of the soul.   Every time you say ‘no’ to temptation, you lift the weight, then put it down.  Every time you walk away when you could be confrontational you run the extra spiritual mile.   Every time…you get the picture.

Yet it’s true.  In order to walk a Godly walk we have to choose the best path.   We have to train ourselves up in the ways of the Word.  That requires studying Scriptures.   That requires personal prayer with God.   That requires doing things that Jesus wants us to do:   loving, listening, helping, serving, being selfless.  When all I want to do is buy a six pack and forget my many troubles, God calls me to write these words instead.  To listen to other believers, to share my story and work to serve others.   To walk away, confess my pain, accept His peace.

Man, that’s a tall order.   You better believe, then, our Savior is a tall, tall man.

During this School of Discipleship and Ministry, the pastor is talking about core beliefs of the church, about church history, about mission and vision, about leadership in the Lord.   The center of all he’s taught is Christ and only Christ.   I find that refreshing, and even though change is coming in my life I intend to keep returning to finish out the course.  I find it refreshing because so much else of the world in which I walk is focused elsewhere.   You know yours is as well.   NFL debates, same sex marriage, public corruption, celebrity wreckage, divorce, unemployment, kids having kids and kids aborting kids:   pick your poison.   In 2017 America there’s plenty to go around.   So I find my respite these weeks in going back to God, in focusing on first principles.   First of those is Jesus Christ is God who lived, died, and lives again to redeem sinners like me and you.   He did everything necessary to make that happen, and now He asks us to follow Him.   To follow requires a spiritual workout where you’ll flex muscles of the soul, sinew of the conscience, blood pumping and heart racing to new beats.

Yep:   that’s a tall order indeed.  Are you willing to stand up for the mission?   “I don’t think I can” you might be saying.   It might seem too embarrassing, too inconvenient, perhaps even too risky given the social world we live in.  But let me propose that, if you’re even thinking about it, God’s Spirit is already working within you, calling you to a new purpose, a new mission.   He’s giving you a mission He’s prepared just for you, and He’s going to ready you for it.   Put on your gym shoes, my friend.   We’re in training.

For further reading:  Isaiah 35:3-4, Proverbs 4:26, Galatians 6:1.

Lord, help me to train up more to serve You.

 

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 25 September 2017

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12, verse 11.

No pain no gain, right?   That does seem to be what the verse is saying, doesn’t it?   But here’s the kicker:   you don’t have to be in pain.   You know this is true.   All the pain ever needed was felt on the cross by our Savior.

Why is it that our country, America, seems to have so little righteousness, peace, or even discipline in it right now?   I was one of the fools caught up in debating the NFL national anthem brouhaha this weekend.   None of what I read, or even what I said, seemed very peaceful.   North Korea seems bent on starting a war and we seem more than willing to oblige their intention.   The stock market is in joyful turmoil, seemingly poised to either rise even higher or crash very soon.   Hurricanes, over-zealous media, hyper-sensitivity over small things, differences in beliefs and politics and ideologies, gender confusion, violent ‘protesters’ in the streets:  it seems like we have lost our way.   Or have we?

Isaiah said that “the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.”   Those were his inspired words over 2800 years ago.  In his day, Israel was indeed being disciplined.   Isaiah prophesied the coming messiah who would bring about peace forever.   Yet that peace would come only after great testing.

Let’s be honest:   there are nations in history who have been tested far worse than we of 21st century America are being tested now.   There are times in our history when we have been divided so much that war broke out.   There have been divisive figures all throughout history and history still clocks on today; it will continue to do so until Jesus returns as He said He would.   Until then, we are being disciplined.

Sometimes it hurts.   Death, divorce, unemployment, losing your home, sickness, pain:   they all hurt.   It hurts when God allows them into our lives.  Yet Romans reminds us that “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”  Those beautiful verses, my wife’s favorite, don’t tell us “suck it up buttercup.”   Instead, they remind us that God is with us, at work in us even in the hardest times, and even when we don’t like it.   Good comes from bad.   Suffering teaches us about the character God built into us.   And God refines us as we persevere, instilling into us hope as a guarantee of peace to come.   Think of yourself as 10 carat gold being refined by melting into 24 carat.   The impurities are being stripped away, and that hurts.   But it’s for good.   Think of it as medical treatment for a dread condition.   Before the healing can start, the cancer needs to go away.

Right now life is hard.   It’s hard to talk with people.   It’s hard at home.   It’s hard in public and sometimes even in private.   I don’t like the feeling of being disciplined, of having God tear me down to build me up in other ways.     Yet I do know He’s doing it, and that what He does is always good, for good, to produce good.  Gain from pain?   Yes, even when, as Johnny Cougar sang, “it hurts so good.”  But we don’t need the pain because Jesus already felt it.

For further reading:  Isaiah 32:17, James 3:17-18, Romans 5:3-5.

My Lord, the refining You’re putting me through hurts.   Strengthen me to persevere by clinging to You.   Abide with me that I may come closer to You in all ways here.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 September 2017

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12, verses 1-2.

These are the same verses from yesterday, but I’ve added in the last sentence in verse 2.   It’s one of the most famous, most quoted verses in the entire Bible.  To get the full effect, you really need the previous words.  “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”   Read that to yourself over and over a few times, and try to let it sink in.

Yesterday we talked about Franklin Graham and his relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse.   Neither Franklin Graham nor anyone in Samaritan’s Purse set aside pure joy to endure pure torture for you or anyone else.   We talked about volunteers and first responders fighting fires and rebuilding after hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes.   None of them ever set aside joy, endured the cross, and sat down at the right hand of God the Father.  Your neighbors haven’t done this.  Barack Obama never did this and can’t; ditto Donald Trump.   Neither can Brad Pitt, the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Benny Hinn, Miss America 2017, nor your saintly little old lady grandma.

Jesus did.   He didn’t just do it willingly:   He did it lovingly, fully, without hesitation.   It’s the theme of the entire Bible and the central event in all of human history.   Everything that every is or was or will be hinges on Jesus dying on the cross, then rising to live forever.

The creator of all things, the most powerful being imaginable, who created everything simply by speaking; the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (as both Isaiah and Handel called Him):   He, the omnipotent and omniscient God willingly, enthusiastically let sinners He created nail Him to the most humiliating device of torture ever devised in hell.   He did it with gusto.   Jesus not only took the worst mankind could throw at Him:   He ASKED for it.  He ran the race of life fully, to its end, to show us where we were going.

He did so because Barack, Donald, Brad, Francis and the rest of us can’t.   We simply can’t.   We aren’t Him; we aren’t God.  He is.   We desperately needed Him to do it, too.  All too often, we don’t throw off those entangling sins.   Too often, the race seems like too much for us.

Yet there He is in the race, running ahead of us, drawing our gaze, our focus.  He’s in there to pace us, to give us someone to run toward.  He beckons us to persevere, to endure because He endured much tougher things than our day to day lives.   Notice that Jesus doesn’t take us out of the race.   He doesn’t pluck us from the middle of the world, removing us from our sins.  No, Jesus stays with us to give us a reason to push forward.   The reason is Him, sitting as equal with His Father in heaven, beckoning us to persevere, to run the race day by day.  With Him there is peace now and a meaningful forever.  In Him is the victory; in Him is the goal of running the race.   All of human history prepared for His coming, and when He came, all of history after Him was set on a different path.  No empire could prevent His resurrection; no ideology can refute it, deny it, or withstand it.  Every Christmas, memes and cards say “Jesus is the reason for the season.”   That’s true, but don’t bottle that up until the Holidays.   Jesus is the reason you run your race today.   He’s there in every step, not just every December.

Get up and get back in your race.   Your goal is dead ahead.   For the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.   He did it so you could run your race.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 9:24, Hebrews 10:36, Psalm 25:15, Hebrews 2:10, Philippians 2:8-9, Mark 16:19.

Lord, I lift up Your Name to praise You for running my race with me.   Abide with me, push me forward, and help me to finish in Your strength.

 

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 21 September 2016

They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.   You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed.  But you remain the same, and your years will never end.  Hebrews 1, verses 11-12.

A few days ago I shared that I believe creation is how the universe was created, how any reasonable discussion about the facts of evolution and creation will logically lead an intellectually honest person back to creation as that only logical explanation.

Now, in our best “Meatballs” moment, let’s all say this together:   “it just doesn’t matter.”

It doesn’t matter because what was created will be destroyed.   All that was created will be un-created by the same God who created it, all in His own time and by His design.   We don’t have control over that:   He does.   When He gives the word, it’ll happen.   You and I can rail against that, insisting that we, the created, should have a say in how He gains His glory, but the fact is we don’t have a say in it.   Only He does.   And when it’s said and done, He’ll still be and we can be with Him there.

Isaiah prophesied: “All the stars in the sky will be dissolved and the heavens rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.”  Psalm 102, written years before Isaiah, says also “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.  They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.  Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded.  But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

So, say it with me again:   it just doesn’t matter.   There.   We’re sounding more like Bill Murray every time.

Now remind yourself of a few things.  Consider that Isaiah’s words were a promise.   They were God-inspired and bound to happen.   Remember that the Psalm is a hymn of praise as well as a statement of obvious fact.  But most of all, remember that this section of Hebrews establishes praise for Jesus because of His supremacy over all creation.   The author of the book has already tied Jesus back to creation and Eden themselves.   Now he’s saying that Jesus will oversee the end of all He created yet, after that end, Jesus will remain.   Therein is the hope of the world.

Huh?   The world that we’re talking about dissolving, perishing, destroying, changing has hope after all that has happened?   You betcha.  Not only hope, but the PROMISE, the guarantee, of eternal life.   Hope isn’t just some wishing well or some David Copperfield trick.   It’s a promise, the expectation of a fulfilled agreement.   God gave us the hope that He would endure past all that we know and trust and that, because of this, we can be sure of living forever.   He who is eternal assures us that, because He who is all love and purity endures past time and matter, we who put our trust in Him will live with Him when time and matter cease to be.

And cease they will.   Quote me on this (even tell my atheist friend):   sometimes I think the story of creation’s beginning and end is a giant head game.   I mean, God simply IS and He’s over everything because He created and can control everything.  The ending has already been determined and advertised.  It’s a foregone conclusion that, in the end, evil will be destroyed, Satan will be destroyed, everything that was corrupted by sin will be destroyed.   When that’s done, God will reshape it into something new, perhaps something like the world of Adam and Eve.  This will all again be a paradise where Jesus will once again commune with us, face to face and God-man to man.   There won’t be the taint of sin; there won’t be any anger, violence, or separation from Him.  Those things will have ended and what will remain will be only what God has ordained:   Himself (and His perfect love) and those who have loved Him.   We’ll endure not because of anything we’ve done, but because He made it possible.

Whatever worldly things we trust now just won’t matter anymore.  Things won’t matter.   Parties and plans won’t matter.  Long trips, schedules, project plans, bills, DVR shows, Bill Murray movies, weather forecasts, blogs, iPhones, and steak & shrimp on the menu just won’t matter.   What will matter will be Jesus and holding His hand there in love throughout all eternity.

For more reading:   Isaiah 34:4, Psalm 102: 25-27.

Lord Jesus, only You matter.   Thanks for Your promise of living forever in the world You’ll make new.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 28 January 2015

When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.  He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” – Mark 4, verses 10-12

Jesus is invoking the memory of Isaiah. If you lived in Jesus’ time, you would have been intimately familiar with the life of Isaiah, who, next to Moses, was perhaps Israel’s greatest prophet. Isaiah prophesied after the united kingdom (under Saul, David and Solomon) split into the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. He lived during a time of war, when the Assyrians (of the north) had overrun Israel and the Babylonians (of the east) were threatening Judah.   He prophesied both historically and metaphorically, speaking against the sinful Israelites.   He constantly implored them that they were going to bring God’s wrath on themselves for turning away from Him by worshipping idols and not keeping God’s commands in their hearts.   Yet, hand in hand with that, Isaiah also prophesied that a Messiah would come to deliver them.   Indeed, some of the most identifying prophecies that point specifically to Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah were first uttered by Isaiah.

These were things that mattered to the Israelites of Judea, who, 600 years after Isaiah, were looking for that deliverer as an earthly king.   Their forefathers had been overrun by several empires, and Israel itself had ceased to exist as a political entity hundreds of years ago.   Yet the Jewish people, the direct descendants of the first Israelites (of Isaiah’s time and before), still clung to their identity as God’s chosen people, on being the people through whom God demonstrated Himself to the world and who He had promised to deliver.   They had a rich heritage of miracles; of course they were proud of who they were.   That was their undoing…just as it is ours

So Jesus brought them up short on that. In verse 12, Jesus quotes Isaiah chapter 6, verses 9 and 10 to describe why He said the parable the way He did.   The people of Jesus’ day were no different than the people of Isaiah’s day.   Listening to Jesus’ words but not listening for meaning.   They wanted that political, military deliverer to avenge their centuries of being ruled by pagan outsiders.   Yet here was Jesus, revealing Himself as a different kind of messiah, one who would free their hearts, minds and souls so that matters of the world wouldn’t control them any longer. The people of Jesus’ day were living out Isaiah’s words, having harbored calloused hearts and a dulled sense of love.   They saw Jesus but wouldn’t – not couldn’t – grasp who He was and how He was identifying Himself as the deliverer they needed instead of the deliverer they wanted.

Tell me:   don’t we need the same Jesus?   We look for someone to deliver us from threats, from our responsibilities, from the consequences of our actions and bad choices.   We want someone to make the hurting stop, and yet we fail to grasp that someone already has, that Jesus has already accomplished that.   Just like the Judeans of the first century, we the people of our time are seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding.

Lord, thank You for Your words spoken through Jesus and Isaiah.   Teach me with them today and always.

Read Mark 4, verses 1-20.